No Instagram - More Room for Creativity
Marlo Saalmink is a creative director at Atelier Marlo Saalmink, a fashion director at Fucking Young! and a fashion editor at REVS Magazine. Marlo combines his fashion career with teaching, while being a senior lecturer at Polimoda fashion school.
How did you get into fashion? Please, share with our audience the key moments of your career?
Marlo: This happened quite organically to me. After studying International Relations, Art and Culture in Maastricht and Paris, initially I found myself working with NGO´s and global policy outreach, focusing on environment, integration, and health. This gradually morphed, when moving permanently to Paris, into a more creative setting. As I paint, write and dabble in textile design, something just clicked. From visual merchandising to styling assignments, to fashion show productions and PR, things just enveloped. Fashion is an industry, that can be very inclusive, if you are willing to do the work, make the connections, develop your skills, do the research (read read read) and most importantly treat others with respect and remain humble.
Please, tell us more about the Atelier Marlo Saalmink?
Marlo: For me, it is a small quiet hub, where art, architecture and fashion exist together. As we mainly work on project-foundations, it is very dynamic too. No season is the same. Not only in terms of geographical terms (we have been based in Paris, Berlin and Copenhagen), but also in terms of output. From Art Direction to curation, to editing to photography, all exist and intertwine. Together these allow for a deep immersive scope into the worlds of contemporary art, furniture, architecture and fashion.
What are your criteria for selecting clients?
Marlo: Working with designers, museums, schools, or brands, always develops after a rather holistic process. It can take time to get to know each other and define specific focal points. That is why every assignment (no matter the size or duration), involves a series of conversations and meetings, prior to being actually conducted. Chemistry is important as well as being realistic about what you can give, share, and expect from both sides. This allows us to work with people over a longer period of time, season after season, thus building deep profound connections, which are priceless.
What are your most recent projects?
Marlo: As mentioned I work with many projects and partners over a much longer time, so recent perhaps also means most meaningful to me. The connection with Linda Loppa and Danilo Venturi at POLIMODA, I will always cherish. As with the work as an editor for Fucking Young! Magazine and REVS MAG, these are all projects with the involvement of wonderful humans. Both from a journalistic and academic perspective. POLIMODA allows me to connect with interesting creative young minds, the next inventors of fashion!
Fucking Young! S/S 2016 Cover with Olly Alexander | PH: Matt Irwin
Which over the years has been quite a journey. Whereas being an editor allows me to focus on printing independent magazines and the wonderful continuous investigation of what bridges art, fashion and architecture. On another note, working with small devoted ateliers like POHJANHEIMO, ANDY R, HANNIBAL, RICHARD SÖDERBERG has been so beautiful from a creative and emotive sense. A lot can be said for their empowered and unique takes on creation.
What is the most difficult aspect of managing your own company and work with a big portfolio of brands focusing on different angles of fashion: education, publishing, fashion houses?
Marlo: Well, I guess this is something we have learned over time. To be able to exist in the moment and gather all these projects under one umbrella. There is so much to be done all the time, but with structure and focus, all things work together wonderfully. That being said: a rather overwhelming amount of travels are required, which also takes things to another level, in terms of organization. I guess logistics is where the main challenges lie, that and the (im)possible time-differences, when planning international meetings and calls.
"Teaching is a wonderful moment, always, it is about fluid interaction in a selfless way. It is about your audience, the student, and not yourself."
What is the best way to always stay up-to-date with the industry?
Marlo: For me, this has always been books, newspapers, magazines, zines and independent publications. As I travel a lot, I consume a lot of literature. To read a lot; anything from commercial magazines all the way to new minimalist zines published in limited runs, allows me to keep track of what is happening in the art, fashion and design worlds. The internet is handy too at times, but physical literature has given me more in-depth knowledge over the years. Needless to say, I am an avid supporter of print media, and in the atelier, we are surrounded by endless piles of magazines, journals, newspapers and books.
How do you think fashion journalism, PR and consulting are going to change in the next few years?
Marlo: Very few have the gift of sight and can predict things that lie ahead. What will surely be on everybody´s mind, keeping the current state of the world into account, is how to (dis)connect, bridge, attack, confront, unite and develop the dichotomy between the digital and physical worlds. There is much work to be done here. More and more additional screen-time might be accommodating to some, but there is nothing like experiencing fabrics, contemporary art and craftsmanship in its real tangible form….
What have you learned from your teaching experience?
Marlo: To always be open. To allow for dialogues, to share irreverently, to inspire but also allow oneself to be inspired, to be fearless and to instill this into others, to listen, to speak, and to always connect transparently. Teaching is a wonderful moment, always, it is about fluid interaction in a selfless way. It is about your audience, the student, and not yourself. It can be most rewarding, yet one also should give a lot.
PH: Adam Katz Sinding
"For me, this industry will always be on the move, dynamic and highly versatile. Yes, changes are needed, let´s see how many of us are willing to accept these."
What is your take on sustainable fashion?
Marlo: This is a very big question. Obviously, I very much believe in locally sourced and produced design. The importance of true craftsmanship is immense. I mean simply look at Japan, in terms of ceramics, textile or furniture know-how. There is a beautiful balance here between old and new, between history and contemporary. Luckily, nowadays there are many examples to be found all over the world. Craft has to be nurtured, developed, and appreciated. This is part of a mindset more than anything, a lot of power lies with the consumer too. So instead of merely thinking sustainable, processes like CSR and consumer empowerment are pivotal too. Indeed, buying less, but better makes sense. But for this to become a worldwide practice, we need to inform, research and engage customers in a novel interactive non-belligerent manner.
How the COVID-19 pandemic influenced your business?
Marlo: To say it has not would be a lie. Obviously, the travel restrictions have been detrimental to a lot of creative output (shoots, gallery openings, curation, fashion weeks, art direction), so we have had to postpone, adapt and find new ways to work together. Luckily the writing and research have not seized and slowly we can work towards the creative real-life output again too. And working on long-term educational projects, printing of magazines and curation processes allows for the momentum to keep building, despite the current turmoil.
PH: Filep Motwary
What is the post-COVID-19 future of the fashion industry?
Marlo: To be honest, I think there have been many more seasoned voices than mine that have commented on this ´new normal´. Several industry greats have spoken out, written open letters, taken action, or are still deliberating what to do next. Let us listen to them too. For me, this industry will always be on the move, dynamic and highly versatile. Yes, changes are needed, let´s see how many of us are willing to accept these. Personally, I sincerely hope that also consumers will join this conversation, by seeking out smaller ateliers, creators that work with minor global footprints, beautiful connoisseurs that appreciate craft, time and the environment.
"When the concept is right, the visuals trigger others, and the culture around the brand is carefully nurtured from day one: the attention will come. "
What advice would you like to give to those who are dreaming to become part of the fashion world?
Marlo: Perhaps to stop dreaming, haha. No, in all seriousness, this is a question I get asked very often. The good thing about fashion (like art in some ways), is that in principle everybody can join from a creative point of view at least. There are room and an incessant need for new ideas. However, in order to join properly, it is key to have a clear idea about what you like to offer, to develop and nature your own voice and be willing to put time and energy into this. It is so important to read, to research, to travel, and to find the position you would like to have. Many designers that I highly respect like Raf Simons, Ann Demeulemeester, Yohji Yamamoto-san, Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten, Jun Takahashi-san, etc, took their time to get where they are today, they know precisely what they wish to convey, and have done so over decades. This is true punk!
What future do you predict for independent fashion brands? How should they build their communication to get noticed?
Marlo: As mentioned, there is always room for independent brands to rise to the occasion. Especially now, with locality playing a crucial role, there is an opportunity to come with new well thought out designs, that are fluid and functional in today´s world. To get noticed, the product has to be righteous, the designer needs to believe 100% in what he/she stands for, there are no shortcuts. When the concept is right, the visuals trigger others, and the culture around the brand is carefully nurtured from day one: the attention will come. There are many ways to develop a brand, but most often, the quality and the (social)integrity of the garments is key.
What future do you predict for fashion schools?
Marlo: Well, I am a big believer in education and the role schools play here, the same goes for museums as artistic bastions of hope, dreams and contemplation. Education exists to show other routes than those on the beaten track. It exists to inform, to challenge, to give knowledge. But it also needs to take into account the dreams of every single student. It is a dialogue, that has only gained importance. As a foundation, education is crucial. Yet only if conducted in a pro-active, irreverent and fearless matter. Every student decides for themselves how much they can gain from it, no matter if we are talking BA or MA, it´s all about hunger. Attack the Block!!
How should a student choose a school? Based on my research, students choose their school by its rating and its location. What else would you suggest to pay attention to?
Marlo: Very often this is a financial decision too. I remember back in the days when taking my MA, I worked on the side and luckily received a scholarship upon applying for this. Several top institutes have realized that education should be a common good and that scholarships have to be made available, so people from all walks of life can join. The choice of a school should be based on what you wish to learn and where do you feel you can gain the most out of it academically speaking. Location matters surely, but the academic discourse does more. Read more, ask around, connect with professors, other students, and try to get the entire picture. Education can be whatever you want it to be, as long as you approach it with an open and determined mind.
What transformations should the retailers go through in order to stay in business?
Marlo: Another massive question… Let me focus on independent retailers, as these lie closest to my heart. As a former buyer, I know how challenging it can be to have a smaller store (in a not so obvious location). First and foremost, the product selection is key. Only brands that you truly believe in, that tell a (functional) story and that are reliable should be stocked. Curation and creating a welcoming (not clinical) atmosphere are most important too. As is finding passionate, committed, and knowledgeable staff (very difficult). With local as the new normal, retailers should have become a part of their respective local environments, there needs to be a connection between them and their respective neighborhoods. In short, this is what builds a store that can withstand any storm.
You are not on Instagram. Why? =)
Marlo: This has always been a deliberate choice, being a child of the '80s, I guess the entire online-movement kind of passed me by. Personally, I never had the interest in speaking too much about ´me and myself´ and like to refrain from constantly checking in with the world. For me, the real world, physical interaction, phone calls, travels, and of course letters and email, have been sufficient to stay connected to dear friends, colleagues, and artists. To not be on social media, provides me with a lot of valuable time for reflection. It filters out so much needless noise…
There is so much noise everywhere and the information that is not relevant. What is the best way to filter it?
Marlo: As per your previous question, not being on social media; surely takes the sting out of things. When it comes to reading and actually buying physical magazines and books, you curate more actively what you consume. Once on the internet, so much information is (unwillingly) thrown at us. By limiting screen-time as much as I can, you keep yourself grounded. For me, it works well to live in the countryside in Southern Norway. If I miss the hustle and bustle of Tokyo or Paris, I can go there and immerse myself fully. But to work in the quiet atelier, in these rather bucolic settings, has served me well. It is a humble, ascetic existence, that allows me to choose what information to consume and at which pace.